Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unfinished business: fern babies, Anthurium babies

I am extremely sorry to have to report that the baby Cyrtomium falcatum and Asplenium nidus ferns I started forever ago, as well as half the Anthurium andraeanum seedlings I started half a forever ago, are not going to make it. I'm even more sorry to report that the reason why they didn't make it is really stupid. I got greedy.

But first, a quick recap.

At some point I didn't bother to write down, I brought home some fern spores from work. I put them on wet vermiculite, and in November 2008 I had the beginnings of baby ferns.

Eight months later, in July 2009, they'd developed to the point where there were signs of actual fronds developing, which was pretty exciting.

Meanwhile, I had some seeds form on an Anthurium andraeanum 'Pandola' that I'd bought in spring 2009, and I planted half of them with some Begonia leaf sections I was trying to propagate, and the other half, I planted with the baby ferns. And they developed and grew and all was good. So at this point we've got some developing Cyrtomium, Asplenium, and Anthurium, all in the same container of moist vermiculite.

And then I did something really, really stupid.

I had bought, somewhere in winter or spring 2008, a bunch of seeds of various tropical plants. I was going to plant them, and raise many, many baby plants, and it was going to be fun and awesome and stuff. Unfortunately, I planted the seeds in a plug tray, which I then failed to keep watered, so the seeds didn't sprout.

But I'd remained hopeful, and didn't throw the seeds out, because who knew, maybe they'd still be good for something. Which I apparently found a convincing argument until sometime during the summer of 2009, when I decided that there was no point in hanging on to plug trays full of very dry dirt anymore; if they'd been viable to begin with, surely they no longer were.

Which in retrospect was a really good decision.

However! As I was dumping them out, I noticed the Cordyline fruticosa seeds, which were big enough to be easily picked out of the soil and recovered. And I thought: hey. Maybe I could still plant these. What could it hurt?

The answer turned out to be, everything. It could hurt everything. Because, see, the seeds, when planted in the vermiculite, also introduced some odd little bugs, which I'd never seen before. I also kind of haven't seen them since, or at the time, because they are/were very tiny and semi-transparent and moved around a lot. This is the best picture I was able to get of them:

And this is the scale we're talking about:

So. Trapped in a more or less airtight plastic container with nothing to eat but developing seedlings and . . . um . . . let's call them sporelings, these bugs slowly went about the business of eating what was there to eat, apparently from the roots up. So the tops of the ferns withered, then browned, then collapsed. Patches of the ferns went black and slimy, and the Anthuriums turned sort of a weird bronze color (though they hung in there for quite a while, way longer than the ferns). I dithered for a long time about whether or not to throw the whole thing out, and eventually decided to toss 'em . . . right at about the same time I noticed that the Cordyline seeds were beginning to sprout. (So at least we know they can still be viable after sitting around for a couple years, even if they're totally dry for a six-month stretch there in the middle.) But the Cordylines were also bronze, and kind of stunted-looking, even for seedlings, so out the whole thing went. (No pictures. Too painful.)

So there's the whole tragic tale. I've started over again, with fresh vermiculite and fresh spores (obligingly produced by my own personal Cyrtomium last November, almost like it knew I was going to need them -- maybe I should have gone with "Psychic" for the "person," when I wrote the Cyrtomium falcatum profile), and so maybe in early 2012 I'll have some news on that.

The moral of the story, clearly, is: don't put nonsterile seeds into sterile media if you really value the stuff that's already growing in the sterile media. And insects are bad.

One could also make a case for part of the moral being that ferns are slow, frustrating, and not worth trying to raise from spores, but I'm not going there just yet.

The reader will be relieved to hear that the other half of the Anthurium seedlings, the ones with the Begonias, are still intact. I moved them into a 3-inch pot a week or two ago, because the Begonias were getting too big for the container and I couldn't transplant one without also doing the other, and so far they're doing okay, though I do worry a little.


Hermes said...

That's sad, but so easily done.

Aaerelon said...

That would be quite frustrating. I've tried ferns twice. Now I think I'm a relatively patient person when it comes to plants. But the ferns drive me nuts! Both sets ended with epic failure after drying out.

I think I may have actually seen those insects before in some failed Trachycarpus fortunei seeds. It's hard to get a good enough look from the picture though. Their just so small...

our friend Ben said...

Mercy, Mr. S., those bugs are scary! Silver, too. I hope you're able to find out what they are. Meanwhile, so sorry for your loss! But at least now you know you CAN grow ferns, and that's exciting.

Melanie J Watts said...

Wow! that is so cool raising ferns from spores. Sorry to hear why it turned into a disaster. but it is great you are going to try again.

James David said...

That really took a lot of time, patience and more patience to see the spores to sprout but sadly ended with a mistake.

It would be much easier to divide ferns than sprouting them - given the ammount of time & success considering growing it.

Anonymous said...

But sprouting your own ferns is so *cooool*!

Is it me, or do those bugs look like Cybermats? It would explain a lot.


mr_subjunctive said...


Heh. I had to look up "cybermats" (not a big "Doctor Who" person), but I agree: they do look similar, and it would explain a lot.

EEE said...

I know it's been ages, but did you ever figure out what this pest is? I think I have them (super small, silvery/almost translucent bugs that seem to mostly find at the bottom of my pots), and I have no idea what it is or how to treat them.

mr_subjunctive said...


I decided they were springtails. I didn't ever really come up with a way to treat them other than by discarding the affected plants.

EEE said...

not what I was hoping for, but helpful nonetheless. thanks!